Thom Smyth: How did you first get in to writing?
Stephen Pham: I was doing badly in actuarial studies at uni and took a creative writing course to cheer myself up. The tutor, Jane Gleeson-White, was the fiction editor of literary journal Overland at the time and offered to publish my major work.
After publication, Sam Cooney, then-editor of The Lifted Brow contacted me to solicit more writing. He then introduced me to Mohammed Ahmad from Sweatshop, then known as Westside Writers’ Group. That’s how I’ve gotten on my current path of writing. It’s contrived, but speaks to the ridiculous amounts of luck and work (on all three editors’ parts) that make writing careers possible.
TS: What’s the driving force behind your work? Are there any issues or ideas or forms that you like to explore in your writing?
SP: I am primarily interested in creating honest and complex literary representations of the communities I navigate as a working class second generation Vietnamese-Australian heterosexual man in Western Sydney.
Questions of class, gender, sexuality, race, and physical and/or mental ability surface in my everyday life, and I want to bring these to the fore. Reading is crucial to my writing practice because it gives me new ideas and forms to engage with. Having read bell hooks’s We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity and Eva Illouz’s Consuming the Romantic Utopia: Love and the Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism, I’m currently interested in exploring how Asian men primarily experience racism in dating.
TS: 5 + 5 is a bit of a collaborative writing experiment, bringing together five different voices to co-author a new script. Is the idea of working with other people on one project daunting? Or is it a nice change from the ‘solitary writer’ kind of stereotype?
SP: Being a member of Sweatshop Writers’ Collective has accustomed me to writing as a collaborative process. Our works have always responded to each other as writers shaping this thing called Western Sydney. This work will make those dialogues explicit in our diversity and solidarity.
TS: Whose writing do you really admire? Who are your main influences?
SP: I admire writers such as Ellen van Neerven, Mohammed Ahmad, Peter Polites, and Alexis Wright for their craft. I am obsessed with Flannery O’Connor.
TS: What is a conversation Australia needs to have right now?
SP: Something about how this country couldn’t go twenty years without a racist immigration policy.